Demons and the soul of Majorca

Dimonis d'Alaró; Infernets de Maria de la Salut; Dimonis de l'Esquitxafoc de Campos; Dimonis de Son Ganxó de Costitx; Dimonis Bocsifocs d'Esporles; Manafoc de Manacor; Dimonis d'Albopàs de Sa Pobla; Trafoc de Palma; Dimonis a Lloure de Felanitx; Dimonis Ka de Bou Pollença; Dimonis es Cau des Boc Negre de Palma; Enfocats de Palma; Dimonis de Fang de Marratxí; Diables de Sant Joan; Kinfumfà Dimonis de Palma; Dimonis Realment Cremats de Palma; Dimonis Factoria de So de Santa Maria; Sa Fil·loxera de l'Infern de Binissalem; Dimonis de sa Cova des Fossar de Sineu; Dimonis Escarrufaverros de Campanet; Es Drac de Na Coca; Endimoniats de Palma; Espiadimonis de Felanitx; Dimonis Sa Pedrera de Muro; Dimonis Hiachat de Santa Margalida.

Even if you don't know the language, this list conveys something terrifying. This isn't only because of "dimonis" (demons). There is an onomatopoeic quality of mystery and terror inherent to the names. They are all members of the Federació de Dimonis, Diables i Bèsties de Foc de les Illes Balears. This federation was formed in February 2008. Seven "gangs" were the initial signatories. Two of the seven - Esclatabutzes de Sóller and Arrels de la Vall de Mancor - aren't in the above list. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's an oversight. Or maybe there's some demonic politics at play. Whatever the reason, it's by the by.

The final two on the list - Dimonis Sa Pedrera de Muro and Dimonis Hiachat de Santa Margalida - are uniting for a night of terror in Muro on Friday (16 June). Rival towns, rival gangs of demons, they will take over the bullring for a fire-running spectacular. Demons no longer simply terrorise in the streets, they put on shows. They are an entertainment of dark forces which cuts deep into the soul of Majorca.

These gangs are mostly all relatively recent creations. Hiachat, for instance, are fifteen years old; Sa Pedrera a mere eleven. But the number of gangs, and there are others, speaks volumes about the ubiquity of cultural demonology. It also says a great deal about the entertainment value of the fire-running demons. Not all demons run with fire - there are different types of demon - but the "correfoc" is what has elevated them to the heights. And the correfoc, as now is, was essentially an import from Catalonia some forty years ago.

There are two grand occasions for fire in Majorca. One is in January for the fiestas of Sant Antoni, the origin of most things demonic. The other is in midsummer, which coincides with the fiestas of Sant Joan (John the Baptist). They are linked by the solstice. Although Sant Antoni is in mid-January, its roots lie with the winter solstice and the use of fire to symbolise the rebirth of the sun. In midsummer, the primal force is the force of the sun itself. The spectacular in Muro is "Solstici d'Estiu", i.e. the Summer Solstice.

Although the correfoc is a modern invention, the association of demons and fire is ancient. In Majorca, it was bred after the Catalan occupation of the thirteenth century, and specifically in the January fiestas in Sa Pobla. The early demons did run in that they ran over fire. The leaping over the fire of hell is now a facet of the midsummer fire celebration. It represents, as it always did, fertility, both in sexual terms and of the soil. There has arguably always been more of the former than the latter, its symbolism captured in the "canya fel·la", the phallic cane.

It is said that the demons and their fire rituals are distant echoes of a very much older tradition, that of the shaman, whose fires would bring survival to tribes because of good harvests. Whatever the precise origins, there is no doubting the degree to which demon culture is embedded in Majorca.

One researcher, Miquel Sbert, says of the figure of the demon. "It is part of our intangible heritage. I don't think you have to say anything more. If you ignore or destroy this heritage, we destroy ourselves." He adds that the "devotion" of the demon, especially among children, is "a guarantee of its continuity, a connection to strengthen and promote the practice of other traditional customs".

The demon, therefore, embodies local culture in a very much broader sense. An appraisal of demon photography by José Juan Luna suggests that the Majorcan people have a "thorough, iconic and deep knowledge" of the dark side. Unlike other societies which seek to hide these darker forces, the Majorcans openly acknowledge them. In so doing, they have a "psychological health, which is not only calm (and summed up by the "Island of Calm" description of Majorca by the painter and poet Santiago Rusiñol) but also gives wisdom and depth of vision."

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